UI Releases Plan To Address Disparities, Promote Equity

Apr 4, 2019

The University of Iowa released a plan Thursday to promote diversity, equity and inclusion at the school. The strategy is based on a campus survey that found overall satisfaction among the UI community varies greatly according to demographics. University leaders have been working for two years to compile the data, analyze and draft a plan they say will improve campus culture for the better.

A survey released by the university shows broad support for diversity with some 88 percent of faculty, staff and students reporting diversity on campus is important. On average, 71 percent students, faculty and staff are satisfied with their experience on campus, but those numbers dip considerably for some according to certain identity groups.

University President Bruce Harreld said in a written statement that at times the results were hard to look at.

“While some of that feedback was difficult to read and hear, we have already begun taking action in a number of areas and will address others through the steps and goals outlined in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Action Plan,” Harreld’s statement reads. “We clearly have much to do to be inclusive on every level. Working together, I am confident we will quickly make significant progress.”

Earlier this year, UI students organized a social media campaign under the hashtag #DoesUIowaLoveMe, sharing personal stories of facing discrimination, barriers to access and a lack of understanding from faculty and other students. The movement attracted attention online and on campus.

"Improving the campus climate will require sustained, community-wide effort, and it's critical to the future success of our university. There is an energy on campus to roll up our sleeves and get to work." - UI Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers

The campus climate survey released this week shows immigrants, LGBTQ people, those with disabilities, and members of underrepresented minority groups are less satisfied than their peers.

Even within these groups, the survey showed considerable variation across professional status, with non-citizen faculty reporting greater satisfaction than their citizen peers and immigrant undergraduates reporting much lower levels of satisfaction compared to non-immigrant students.

The results shed light on the experiences of the campus community and the challenges and limitations they face, some of which could be pushing employees to leave or students to drop out.

Melissa Shivers is the Vice President for Student Life and oversees diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. She says making progress on these issues is essential.

“Improving the campus climate will require sustained, community-wide effort, and it’s critical to the future success of our university. There is an energy on campus to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” Shivers said in a written statement. 

"We have this broad-based group of people saying we get it, we are signing up, we are going to step up and we are going to put this in place [...] I have never been more hopeful about this type of work really resulting in change." - Diane Finnerty, UI Assistant Provost for Faculty

Of female faculty and staff, an average of 47 percent said they “have seriously considered leaving the university” in the past 12 months. For faculty and staff identifying as an underrepresented racial minority, an average of 59 percent said the same.

Those considering leaving the university cited factors like departmental climate, salary, career advancement and lack of support.

The factors students see as obstacles to their academic success varied along demographic lines as well. Underrepresented minority and international students were more likely to name family responsibilities as factors, while many groups pointed to difficulty performing on tests, handling math assignments and managing their mental and emotional health.

While a majority of those on campus believe the university “provides and environment for free and open expression of ideas, opinions and beliefs," that belief varies: 87 percent of undergraduates support the statement while just 77 percent of faculty said the same.

University leaders have developed specific goals to address the findings in the survey to “create and sustain an inclusive and equitable campus environment," recruit and retain diverse faculty, staff and students, and integrate and enhance diversity, equity and inclusion across the campus.

Action items to support these goals range from encouraging long-term cultural change, to implementing concrete changes in the very near term.  

Associate Provost for Faculty Diane Finnerty helped lead the team that developed the plan. She says diversity, equity and inclusion should be woven into the heart of university operations.

“It’s how do we do the business of what we do, and our academic mission, in a way that truly puts into place the commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion as inextricably linked with our success? And that takes more than just an office and just an individual. That engages all of us,” she said.

For students, university officials plan to work with community groups to reach diverse students early on and recruit them, to strengthen support services on campus, including a school clothing closet and food bank, and to analyze which “gateway courses” students are routinely failing and incentivize a restructuring of those classes.

Officials intend to recruit more diverse faculty and staff as well, including tracking demographics throughout application processes while maintaining confidentiality. They also plan to monitor push and pull factors that spur employees to either leave or stay at the campus, and identify ways to reward diversity, equity and inclusion activities during faculty member’s formal reviews.

Ultimately, officials hope to expand diversity, equity and inclusion training so it’s available to everyone on campus.

Already years into this process, Finnerty says it feels like the work is only really getting started. She’s encouraged by the buy-in from leaders across campus, representing the university’s faculty, staff and students.  

“We have this broad-based group of people saying we get it, we are signing up, we are going to step up and we are going to put this in place,” Finnerty said. “I have never been more hopeful about this type of work really resulting in change.”